Most of us know we won’t be the best. We do normal jobs and try to enjoy what we’ve got. Politicians should spend more time celebrating this

by Jack Lesgrin

This is an age when we need to think the unthinkable, because we’re living at a time when the undoable is being done daily. Yet amazingly, the world does not stop spinning, because we adaptable humans, though reeling, continue to stumble onwards.

Just think about last week. Who predicted (answer: not the common man, not politicians and not academics), that there would be a global and British fuel and energy crisis? Or that government ministers would face the legitimate and unprovocative question “can you guarantee that the lights will stay on this winter?”.

Did any of us think there nearly wasn’t enough carbon dioxide for our entire meat processing industry, or enough gas to power manufacturing?

Did anybody predict that the Prime Minister would claim that unprecedented problems with the economy, such as a lack of abattoir workers, or lorry drivers, that are starting to render entire industries in danger of collapse, and national herds of animals at risk of fruitless slaughter, would be dismissed breezily as a necessary rebalancing of the economy after the great Brexit gamble?

My old favourite litmus test for modern political insanity, George Orwell, will surely be smiling or grimacing up there in heaven or its atheist equivalent, at a government whose leaders claimed that their chosen course in Brexit would lead to sunny uplands, dismissed those who warned in advance of economic problems as unpatriotic and fear-mongering, then manage, through a flick of the quill, to claim that the resulting economic calamities are actually a sign of improvement and a great benefit to the worst off.

What does this tell us about the nature of our lives in the year 2021, in the Restless Twenties? On the one level, governments make sure to guarantee the basics, hence we had furlough, and, thankfully, the welfare state protects us from the vicissitudes of the market.

Yet all around us, the world is transforming in strange, and often unpredictable ways. When entire nations or regions seem unable to shape their own destinies, and can’t even fuel their own factories, then the individual must ponder what hope they have to forge their own future.

We need to reframe how we view progress and do so in a way that gives the majority the greatest level of life satisfaction. We need a modern utilitarianism that would eschew the politically attractive “build back better” mantra, and the orthodoxy of GDP growth as the sole arbiter of success.

This new paradigm would refute the current brainwashing narrative that tells us, especially the young: reach for the stars, achieve your dreams, excel at everything, rise up league tables, be a swashbuckling entrepreneur and get promoted.

The latest iteration of this is the government saying it wants to level up, and that it will create a high octane economy built on millions of high wage, high skill, high-tech jobs.

I hear you say “surely you’re not against such a wondrous future; a Greatest Britain ever?”

Ultimately this paradise cannot be achieved in the way that the government claims. It presupposes a limitless appetite among business to pay higher wages, and it is dependent on increased productivity. And irrespective of automation, lower skilled jobs will still need doing. Not everyone will even be able to achieve the qualifications and skill levels needed for the high-skilled future. This may sound patronising, but it is not, and is in fact an honest approach to offering as many people as possible a more fulfilling life.

Call me cynical, but I have a hunch that a majority of people know that they can’t be the very best, do not want to be the Olympic gold medalists of life, do not crave personal and financial advancement at all costs and don’t seek to “boldly go where no (hu)man has gone before.”

What do they want? Well we’re often told that all those ‘red wall’ seats have turned blue because the manufacturing industries of old have died, and with it the secure jobs. What kind of jobs were these? Was the glue that bound communities together in yesteryear the white heat of technology? It was not. These jobs were in factories, or coal mines, or steelworks, or cotton mills. Thanks to the Labour movement and trade unions, the profits of this economic activity were shared more fairly between owners, managers and workers. The jobs provided individuals, families and communities, stability and purpose. Social housing ensured that the relatively low wages were not an impediment to a basic, but good standard of living.

What, in addition to this, was it about these communities that people now look back on with nostalgic envy? It was the brass bands of the collieries, the rugby and football teams, the social clubs, the adult education groups, the youth work, and the community solidarity. It was the pride that comes from a genuine community.

These are unlikely to be the current government’s priority, for they are swigging the elixir of economic futurology, while tethered to a philosophy of laissez-faire, that has, until the last Tory conference, been incredibly relaxed about wages and working conditions being substandard.

So here is a paean to a simpler future of work, whose simplicity demands some complex and radical readjustments of our economy and society.

This is a call for an appreciation of the mundane and the ordinary. We should increasingly celebrate not the masters and captains of industry but its privates and sergeants. We should do this not by telling them they must aspire to run the show (they can if they want), but by appreciating them for the part they play now.

Let’s celebrate the normal, decent jobs that do not require PhDs, that are not in cutting edge robotics or AI, that are things that just need doing in order for society to work.

We need to respect these ordinary roles far more and pay them more if we can. But the true radicalism that flows from this approach is that we should reduce the cost of living drastically so that more people enjoy life, while doing jobs that may well be low skill and low tech.

This model would require the building of so many new homes as to reduce house prices and rents substantially, ensuring that workers would not need to work all hours or, couples to do two full time jobs just to get by. It would also require policies to reduce the cost of childcare substantially, thus further liberating workers from the bonds of the cost of living, or in this case, caring.

People would then have more time to do the other things in society that apparently our politicians value, such as parenting instead of paying vast sums for childcare, volunteering, running the local sports club or helping a youth group.

Many will argue that this vision is pessimistic about people achieving their potential. I see it differently. I see more inspirational behaviour in the volunteer-run local sports clubs than in the ultra-commercialised Premier League. I see more heroes among communities who campaign against their school sports field being sold off than those demanding more millions for our elite Olympians.

As we try to unleash the animal spirits in our economy, let’s recognise, give preference to where possible, and celebrate the majority who will not reach the top, but whose experience of both work and life will be the ultimate arbiter of our country’s success.


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3 Responses to “Most of us know we won’t be the best. We do normal jobs and try to enjoy what we’ve got. Politicians should spend more time celebrating this”

  1. When I was running my local borough of Thr Labour Party asking people who wanted the name they were the Auditor Thr campaign co-ordination branch chair then wouldn’t do the job ,so I had to call them up 20 times to find out if they’d find their job like submitted their receipts for the audit or got the invoice for booking the hall told members there’s a meeting that it took up 1000’s of hours I could of used else where but these people wanted the prestige of being called membership Secretary or getting paper candidates in

    Then didn’t do the job
    It’s all selfishness

  2. Tafia says:

    Important issues that most people are totally unaware of yet are are already affecting them.

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    German and US car manufacturers have had to reduce production and close lines because of the on-going global shortage of semi-conductor micro chips, that is not going to be alleviated for several years at least. The shortage will shortly start to affect supplies of laptops, mobile phones, smart TVs etc etc causing prices to rise connsiderably. New car prices for example are rising at a rate of over 6% and the roll out of electric vehicles, which require more chips than combustion vehicles, will be seriously delayed.

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    The US has slipped into a triple crisis as a HGV driver shortage, soaring energy prices and a logistics supply problem affecting every level of every sector of the economy caused by ports not having sufficient workers to unload and re-load ships, are now starting to severely affect the economy.

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    The major reason for the GP “shortage” and the diffiulty face trying to actually get to see one, is because large numbers of them now only work a 3 day week. Research commissioned by the Department of Health show that GPs carried out just 6.6 half-day sessions a week – the equivalent of just over three working days. The same research shows that the average GP now earns around £100,000 per year.

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    ” The procurement problems from industry have now also arrived here (Germany). Many Christmas presents may not be available or will be expensive”

    Klaus Wolrabe, IFO Research institute, Berlin….who also report 74% of German retailers are now experiencing serious logistics problems and expect the situation to worsen further.

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    A leading transport firm quit the Road Haulage Association on Wednesday, as a furious row over the lorry driver shortage dramatically escalated.

    Europa, a logistics giant based in Kent, said the RHA was ‘substantially responsible’ for chaos at petrol stations in recent weeks.

    Boss Andrew Baxter said he was ‘appalled’ by the tactics used by the RHA including ‘repeated leaking’ of confidential information.

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    Government is due to undertake another review of state pension ages shortly and the move to 68 (currently programmed for April 2046) is very likely to be brought forward.

    A timetable for a move to 69 is also be on the cards for younger workers.

    Incidentally, for those born in April 1960 and after, because you are in the transition periods, your qualifying pensionable age and the age at which you actually get it are different.

    https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2014/19/section/26

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    Labour remains seriously unelectable.

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  3. Anne says:

    Yes, there are a large number of people who just want to go to work to make ends meet. They want to spend time walking the dog, or meeting up with friends, and why not. Perhaps ‘Maslow’s hierarchy of needs’ may be applied to the work place. Many look back at days gone by, and view these as perhaps ‘better’ times. When I asked a friend why they had voted for Brexit they replied ‘I don’t want things to change.’ I didn’t like to say that ‘change’ is with us all of the time, and this is more pronounced following a major event such as a war, or a pandemic. Things are not the same. Flexible working probably will remain. GPSs will probably not return to total face to face consultations. The Tory Party has a slogan which applies to the country coming out of this pandemic – ‘Build Back Better.’ This is a good slogan but it is hollow because there is no plan behind how to implement it. People do want jobs to put food on the table, a roof over their heads – yes, a good standard of living. The Party which deserves to win the next election is the one which provides us with a plan to build back. At the heart of this plan should be business. Wasn’t it Bill Clinton who said ‘it’s the economy, stupid.’

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